People canoeing on the Gowanus Canal. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

A borough of superlatives, Brooklyn contains a number of toxic sites, not a few of which are also historic and storied. But walking by some of them, you wouldn’t necessarily know they’re hazardous.

While not everyone is concerned, we’re sure others would like to know where in Brooklyn toxic sites might be found — and some of the stories behind these former industrial sites. Below, some of the borough’s worst offenders.


Photo via Greenpointers

Demolition may soon commence at Greenpoint’s maligned NuHart Plastics Superfund site, where the Fire Department shut down a massive rave this past Halloween over safety issues. Though a concerned local wrote to tell Brownstoner that the warehouse — which contains and sits on top of toxic chemicals — would be torn down starting today, the developer assured us that the wrecking ball isn’t in place just yet.


Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal is Joseph Alexiou’s ode to one of New York’s filthiest waterways. The history buff’s book details over 300 years of Gowanus history, from marshland to high rise.

Brownstoner talked with Alexiou about the origins of his love for the polluted canal, and historic parallels between today’s Brooklyn and that of a century ago.


A toxic ghost from Brooklyn’s industrial past is being met not with an artisan makeover, but removal by National Grid. Cleanup of the empty lot at 50 Kent Avenue, which hosts Brooklyn Flea and various outdoor music shows, will start soon, according to a notice posted this month from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In addition to various music and culture fests, the lot has also been hosting soil contaminated by coal-tar. A designated state Superfund site owned by the Parks Department, the waterfront venue may be considered a mainstay of North Brooklyn culture, but from 1850 to 1930 it was home to the Williamsburg Works Manufactured Gas Plant, according to DNAinfo.


The distinctive curved facade on the polluted Harte & Company factory in Greenpoint could survive, an owner’s rep told the Brooklyn Eagle. But the 1930s Arte Moderne factory at 280 Franklin Street is still going to become apartments, likely a multi-building complex.

Yi Han of Experta Group said she’s working with the architects to save some piece of the unique corner, because “very few places in New York have that. It’s like a witness to the transformation of the neighborhood.”


Developer Sam Boymelgreen last week filed permits for a 162-room hotel at 255 Butler Street in Gowanus. The building will not be new, but rather an enlargement of the four-story factory to seven stories. The density (square footage) will remain the same, according to New York YIMBY, which first reported on the plans.

Boymelgreen does not own the property but rather has a 49-year lease, as we reported previously. In February, a story in The Real Deal about Boymelgreen’s Windsor Terrace development The Kestrel noted 255 Butler Street would be a hotel or office. Not quite a decade ago, the city refused a variance that would have permitted the owner to convert the property to residential.

On the first floor will be stores, a restaurant, coffee shop, terrace, gym, library and event space, according to the application. Rooms will be located on the second through seventh floors, with another restaurant, a pool and terrace on the fifth floor. The applicant of record is SBLM Architects.

Also, the site, an old printing plant, is contaminated. We’re not sure if this alteration requires a brownfield cleanup.

Plans to rezone the area were put on hold pending the EPA cleanup but could be revived following a year-long series of public meetings about the future of Gowanus in which residents said they did not want tall buildings but the report said they did.

Hotels are a popular type of development in industrial areas where residential development is not permitted. In an effort to preserve factory jobs and the character of industrial neighborhoods, the City Council recently recommended a change to city’s factory zoning that would not permit hotels.

Permits Filed: 162-Key Hotel at 255 Butler Street in Gowanus [NYY]
255 Butler Coverage [Brownstoner]
Photo by Kate Leonova for PropertyShark


Will Gowanus be the next Dumbo? A story in the Times over the weekend suggests yes. The fact that it is home to one of the largest Superfund sites in the country has not deterred development there. The story gives an overview of all the development happening there, which will be familiar to Brownstoner readers, including the 700-unit rental project Lightstone Group is building and the condo development at 345 Carroll Street, as well as all the retail that has opened lately, such as Whole Foods and Ample Hills.

Two interesting factoids: Councilmember Brad Lander is working to change the zoning of the area from industrial to mixed-use, which would mean more housing could be built. And Gowanus Green, Hudson Companies’ affordable 774-unit development on 5th Street, is “stalled until the site’s former owner, National Grid, completes a voluntary environmental cleanup.”

Gowanus Is Counting on a Cleanup [NY Times]


On Friday, the 11th of July, I found myself at the very edge of Queens in a very special place. At the end of Vernon Boulevard in LIC, where the old Vernon Avenue Bridge and the Newtown Creek Towing Company were found, is a facility which is engaged in the hands-on work of the Superfund process. The Anchor QEA company operates out of here, carrying out the collection of samples and scientific tests which will determine the exact nature of what’s wrong with Newtown Creek. These samples and tests are overseen and directed by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, and is an effort conducted by the so-called “Potentially Responsible Parties” (PRPs).

These “Potentially Responsible Parties” have organized themselves together as the Newtown Creek Group, and they invited a small group of community members and representatives to their LIC facility to describe what they actually do at the Vernon street end and discuss the future of Newtown Creek.

More after the jump…


A larger than anticipated crowd of over 200 people showed up to discuss their concerns and wishes and help plan the future of Gowanus development Monday night at The Children’s School on Carroll Street. The meeting was the first of a series of public planning forums called Bridging Gowanus convened by local politicians about the ongoing development of and cleanup plan for Gowanus. The Pratt Center for Community Development moderated and presented findings from previous invitation-only meetings held over the summer.

City Council Member Brad Lander remarked that with the EPA’s Record of Decision for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site and the impending transition at City Hall, it’s an important moment for the community to come together and establish a shared vision for the infrastructure of the low-lying and industrially polluted Gowanus area before planning begins. The consensus of the crowd was that every effort should be made to preserve the area’s socioeconomic diversity and keep it affordable for the mixed uses (manufacturing, residential, commercial, artistic) that currently exist. A number of local artists in attendance expressed fears of gentrification and said they felt threatened by the diminishing affordability of studio space. In brief, locals called for a rezoning to preserve affordability and Gowanus’ eclectic identity as a community with vibrant street life and activity.

Other issues raised included the need for a permanent protection plan against coastal disasters; it was noted that the current recovery infrastructure is insufficient to handle even regular rain. The group also said another priority is more schools and suitable health care facilities to accommodate the area’s growing residential population. They would also like the canal to be opened up as a recreational public waterway.

A series of followup meetings will be held early in 2014. In the meantime, anyone interested in joining a working group can contact

Gowanus Residents Meeting to Create Development Plan [Brownstoner]